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Local candy stores scramble in storm's aftermath

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ALGONQUIN – Local candy shops are scrambling to stock shelves for the holidays after Superstorm Sandy shut down a leading novelty chocolate supplier in New York.

Many regional stores depend on the Madelaine Chocolate Co., based in Rockaway Beach, for everything from chocolate hearts and roses for Valentine's Day to chocolate eggs for Easter. The company also provides a number of other services that independent retailers use to create boutique confections.

Sandy slammed into the East Coast on Oct. 29, causing massive power outages and flooding from Virginia to Maine. Queens, which includes the Rockaway Peninsula, was hit particularly hard.

McHenry County candy stores including Morkes Chocolates in Algonquin, the Riverside Chocolate Factory in McHenry, Anderson's Candy Shop in Richmond, and Around the Corner Candy in West Dundee all had ordered holiday products from Madelaine Chocolate.

Company sales officials told buyers to expect production delays and tried to help them place orders with other suppliers, local store owners and managers said.

A post on Madelaine Chocolate's website said the storm caused "extensive damage" to the Rockaway Beach community. Damage to the company's factory forced it to close temporarily.

One of Madelaine's specialties is foil-wrapped chocolates, a feat that is hard to imitate, several local candy store owners said.

"We had ordered some stuff last year and it arrived about two weeks ago before the storm," said Tabitha Deibler, co-owner of Riverside Chocolate Factory in McHenry. Without Madelaine's foil-wrapping services, Riverside Chocolate employees may have to wrap holiday treats by hand this season, Deibler said.

"We'll make do, but it's very sad," she said. "[Madelaine's] does a really good job and makes a high-quality product."

Madelaine's temporary closure has reverberated throughout the chocolate community. Several chocolate buyers here sent out messages on Facebook to the company's factory, offering prayers and hope for a speedy recovery.

With production halted at Madelaine, Morkes Chocolates had to order some niche products and ingredients at higher prices from an intermediary, said owner Rhonda Dehn. In addition to Algonquin, Morkes Chocolates has a store in Palatine.

Madelaine Chocolate Company's 200,000-square-foot factory employs more than 450 workers to produce about 100,000 pounds of chocolate per day, or about 20 million pounds per year, according to its website.

"We understand that this is an inconvenience for our many loyal customers," a message posted on the company's site Thursday said. "In the spirit of resiliency that is emblematic of New York, we will be back, stronger than ever."

It was not immediately clear when Madelaine's would be able to resume operations.

Local retailers had been waiting for news and some were making alternative plans for the all-important holiday candy season.

Around the Corner Candy in West Dundee got its Christmas candy in before the storm. Owner Kim Srajer said she hopes Madelaine Chocolate Company will recover in time to deliver orders for Valentine's Day and Easter.

"They are really good to small businesses," she said. "I hope they are up and running soon because they are a staple for the industry."

The nonprofit arm of the National Confectioners Association, a trade group, established a Rockaway Disaster Relief Fund to help with cleanup from the storm – a move that underscores the importance of Madelaine Chocolate Company to the chocolate industry. Madelaine is a longtime member of the association and its CEO was appointed to distribute the relief funds.

Other regional stores that carry Madelaine products include Confectionery Long Grove in Long Grove, Chocolate Marvels in Buffalo Grove, Chocolate Potpourri in Glenview, Fuzziwigs Candy Factory in Lombard, and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in LaGrange, according to the company's website.

Though New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the destruction, at its peak, Sandy reached 1,000 miles across, killed more than 100 people in 10 states, knocked out power to 8.5 million and canceled nearly 20,000 flights. More than 12 inches of rain fell in Easton, Md., and 34 inches of snow fell in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Damage has been estimated at $50 billion, making Sandy the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, behind Katrina.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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